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Georgia AG joins 49 others in Google antitrust investigation

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, shown here in a September, 2017 file photo, has just announced the state will sue opioid manufacturers. File/Credit: Maggie Lee Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, shown here in a September, 2017 file photo, has just announced the state will sue opioid manufacturers. File/Credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

U.S. attorneys general are asking whether Google has crossed the line from aggressive business practices into illegal ones.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is one of 50 attorneys general who thinks that question is worth a look. His office has signed onto an investigation of the tech behemoth, which is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton confirmed on Monday that the company has already been officially asked for documents.

“Right now, we’re looking at advertising, but the facts will lead to where the facts lead,” Paxton said, standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, surrounded by a handful of other attorneys general.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Credit: Maggie Lee

The thought here is that Google potentially has a monopoly on online advertising. If so, it may mean Google has too much power to determine who can advertise, and at what rates; and therefore, has too much power to determine what people see on the screens they use for hours every day. And that advertising cost, goes the argument, would get passed on to consumers.

“When my daughter is sick and I search online for advice or doctors, I want the best advice from the best doctors, not the and not the clinic who can spend the most on advertising,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

The attorneys general in Washington also brought up concerns about Google tracking and profiling web users.

A senior vice president at Google published a statement last week as news reports started to telegraph the states’ upcoming investigation.

Kent Walker argued that Google does now in fact make many things free, like instant translation any answering any question, even just by pointing a phone at an object.

But he said it’s the right of governments to see that companies are complying with the law.

“We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us,” Walker wrote.

But Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry made a comparison to times before the radio, when newspapers were pretty much the only way to distribute information widely.

What if one company then had owned all the ink, all the printing presses and all the paper?

“If someone would have tried to have monopolize that entire industry, our government would have disallowed it. They would have disallowed the mergers or they would have broken them up,” Landry said, also at the Washington D.C. press conference.

Google ad revenue is by far the biggest revenue source for its parent company, Alphabet. Lately, the parent company’s quarterly revenue has been around $30 billion to $35 billion.

In a press release Monday, Carr said Georgia joined the investigation to assess the competitive conditions regarding Google’s online advertising and search traffic specifically.

“It is critically important that Google’s Georgia users – individuals as well as companies – have access to the markets in which they compete,” Carr said.

A spokesperson for Carr’s office declined comment beyond the press release, due to the investigation being underway.

But so early in the process, many questions don’t have an answer yet anyway.

Paxton and the other attorneys general weren’t ready to talk about any remedies they might seek, like maybe trying to get Google to sell off some of its parts.

Paxton said that a leadership team on the investigation communicates weekly and as they learn more information, there will be more calls among them, and that states can participate as much as they want.

Attorneys general from both parties have ganged together up to go after companies before.

For example, earlier this year, Equifax settled with a group of attorneys general who were investigating whether the company failed to put up enough defenses against hackers.  In 2017, a group of hackers broke into the company, exposing the data of more than half of U.S. adults. Equifax ended up setting up a consumer restitution fund of up to $425 million plus $175 million in payments to states. Georgia got about $7 million of that.

The Google investigation includes the attorneys general of all the states except California and Alabama; and includes those of Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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